Skiing the Borders of a UNESCO Site

I tap my thumb with my mitts – I’m losing sensation.

The weather in Bansko has taken a dramatic overnight turn from ‘too hot,’ as the hotel staff agree, to -2 and snowing. Finally, fresh powder litters the ski slopes and collects on my jacket. It’s better than sludge and stones. It’s better than ice – but beneath the powder that snowboarders repeatedly push aside there are still icy patches. I hope for the best as I push off the edge and drop towards the horizon of snow-capped trees.

Earlier I watched from the gondola window as the metal cage dipped briefly near tree branches with glistening snow, then ascended high above the pine trees and winding rivers.

It’s not surprising that Bansko is considered the entrance to the Pirin National Park and the ski area has bordered the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 (extended in 2010). It’s not included in that site because it has been developed for tourism. Subsequently I’m surprised to spot an ‘eco-friendly’ sticker on the entrance to the lowest gondola station. Still, Bansko has managed to enclose portions of untouched nature below its chair lifts and between its ski runs. On warmer days I can even hear the water trickling. Today I just hear the hum of the gondola and the scraping of skis and snowboards. Only winter brings about this kind of peace.

The gondola dips briefly into thick forest – in this case on a warm day.
Ski views

The gondola ploughs into the final stop like a rollercoaster, and I’m awake. I look up to the two main chairlifts, the small nursery slope, and the drag lift to my right. It’s peak season, so naturally there are queues for the most popular chairlift, the gondola, the toilets; annoyingly it’s also hard to find a seat in restaurants.

I ride the chairlift into the fog and light wind, listening to the array of languages spoken by those I share the lift with.

I’ve pushed off the edge, and finally I turn in powder, the pain in my knees easing now that I’ve found a cloud-like surface. It’s a short-lived victory, as I struggle through mounds and patches of ice until I reach the route to town. Stray dogs race playfully up the ski road and children are wheeled on sledges by their parents. The easy path slopes down, then eases off. Beginners lose momentum on the slight uphills. Where the two paths divide, I take the flatter and quieter route. I skate, one ski right, the other left, enjoying the workout.

I smile nervously for the official photographer, cautious that his camera lens is pointed directly at me. Don’t fall now. It will be awkward.

The end is in site – an array of brightly dressed people, stray dogs, concrete and cars, and the sludge I have to cross first. Frankly, the ski road could have ended a few metres sooner. The lack of snow means that at the end, I’m skiing on water.

Getting There
Regular direct flights from London into Bankso from £30 with Wizz Air, Ryanair, or Easy Jet.

Transfer from Sofia airport to Bansko for £75E – but you might be able to bargain with a taxi driver for cheaper.
*Be weary of unlabelled and/or unlicensed taxis.

Car rental for ~60E.

The bus is a popular option, but not as easy as I anticipated. To take it, you need to get to the central station via metro or taxi. *Anticipate long wait times. Don’t rely on Google Maps for bus options.

Where to Stay & Rent Ski Kit
Hotel Ida offers reasonably priced single and double rooms with the following facilities: a small pool (not for doing lengths), sauna, bar & restaurant, a 10% discount on ski rental, ski storage – and it’s a short walk from the gondola. There are multiple other options available. Cheaper rental prices may be available online.

Ski Rental & Pass Prices
For up to date prices and more information, click here

Alpa Spa & Pool, Dobrinishte

Bulgarian Lev and Euros. Be careful to confirm quotes in the correct currency. Don’t assume you’re being given a quote in one or the other currency.

Eco/Responsible Travel & Ideas to change the world
Bulgaria has many stray dogs and cats. Feed some, offer them water, get them to vets or rescue centres, adopt them.

Tap water is safe to drink in Bulgaria.

For more information on the UNESCO World Heritage site, follow this link:

For more travel information, this is a useful website:

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